Cyprus Mail

Pamboridis in new clash with doctors over failed A&E fast-track service

Nicosia hospital (Photo: CNA)

Health Minister Giorgos Pamboridis said on Tuesday that the newly launched ‘fast-track practice’ at the Nicosia hospital’s emergency department aiming at better serving patients was going back to the drawing board as it was poorly planned, and that trade unions would have no say in the matter.

The minister again crossed swords with the head of Pasyki state doctors’ union, Soteris Koumas, after the latter said the new pilot system – that was launched on Monday at the Nicosia general hospital’s accident & emergency department (A&E) – failed and would continue to fail as long as doctors were not asked for their opinion as to how it should operate.

The fast-track practice, as the new scheme is called, aims at better serving patients with milder symptoms who visit the hospital’s A&E, and who usually end up waiting for hours before receiving medical attention as staff focuses on the more urgent cases.

The new system kicked in at 2pm on Monday, but when Pamboridis made an unannounced visit some two hours later, he witnessed that it had failed to meet its goal. In a tweet, the minister said that the operation of the pilot fast-track system was ‘unsatisfactory’: “Insufficient planning. I expect actions from those in charge,” he tweeted.

A meeting took place on Tuesday at the health ministry to reassess and relaunch the short-lived measure.

Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC radio on Tuesday, Pamboridis said that the system was poorly planned and that his ministry’s officials who were in charge of this would take corrective actions.

“It did not operate to the extent we expected it to.  It was aimed at serving patients, at decongesting the A&E and to spare both patients and health professionals from hardship. What I saw yesterday was far from what I explain here,” Pamboridis said.

He admitted that this proved that the planning made from his ministry’s competent department was inadequate. “There was no plan B, no alternative scenarios”.

The reason the fast-track practice failed to deliver, was because instead of bringing in more staff to man it, the ministry took staff from the A&E for its operation.

This was reportedly due to the refusal of a state doctor to be transferred to the A&E so that they could spare a physician to man the fast-track practice.

On whether this was an issue of understaffing, Pamboridis, said that this also raises another issue, that of the refusal of some state doctors to be transferred to the A&E, “which is unacceptable”. Pamboridis said that on some occasions, when doctors were asked to transfer to the A&E, they feign sickness and go on up to one-month sick-leaves.

Doctors, he said, especially those working in health centres in rural areas that see very few patients each week, have no incentive to go work at a general hospital’s A&E where the workload is much bigger. For this reason, he said, his ministry has already reached an agreement with trade unions to reward those who work in such departments, but at the same time, when a doctor working in rural areas is called to work in an A&E, “he is not allowed to refuse”.

The tensions rose however, after Koumas, also speaking to CyBC radio, said that the fast-track practice failed because the ministry officials did not consult with doctors before launching the pilot project.

“Doctors were not asked. As long as some ministry officials believe they know everything and make decisions for others, we will continue to have these problems,” Koumas said.

He said that even though his union is ready to discuss such measures before they are being implemented, Pamboridis refuses to go into dialogue with them. Koumas also said that state doctors have the right to refuse their transfer to other departments, which led Pamboridis to urging the union head to read again the public service provisions on employment terms.

Setting the record straight, Pamboridis said that the five ministry officials that came up with the fast-track practice, are doctors themselves and are trained in the management of such services.

“Is it for trade unions to tell us how to run the hospitals or is Mr Koumas going to tell us if we are allowed to transfer a person from a mountain resort to Nicosia?” Pamboridis asked. He added that the practice of trade unions meddling with ministry structures is a thing referring to “other countries, of different times”.

“Why should I speak to the (state) doctors’ union to properly redo this programme?” he asked. He said that if he has to include doctors’ and nurses’ unions in every decision concerning state hospitals, nothing will ever get done.

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